Sewing Machine Recommendations
November 14, 2006 2:29 AM   Subscribe

I've been very kindly offered a new sewing machine of my choice as a belated birthday present but I've no idea what machines (new or old) are any good these days.

I'd like a machine that's reliable, has the usual stitches (straight, zig-zag, reverse, etc) and a foot pedal to operate. I'm looking around the £100-150 mark here in the UK, and I'm not averse to buying second hand or off eBay if the machine is recommended. An overlocker is probably a bit over the top for my needs, so just a standard sewing machine.

I've seen some crazy USB machines that you can program with embroidery patterns. Whilst that would be pretty sweet to have, I'm not too fussed about a bajillion features.

In terms of projects I'm looking to make curtains, and some fabric cases for some delicate items of technology.
posted by gaby to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Go for a Bernina or a Viking. Both are quite sturdy and will have all of the usual stitches. I was looking at buying a new Viking a few months ago and with a sale I could get one that did automatic button holes and a few other neat things for about $300. I don't think the £100-150 will cover a really fancy new one, but it might be worth checking for used machines.

I have heard that older machines are much better built than newer ones, but if you are buying over the internet I would advise you to look for something newer that has been well maintained. One of my machines is from the 1970s but it took a tune up and a few repairs to get it into working order. Try something newer that will be sure to have spare parts available in case you need to make repairs.

have fun!
posted by Alison at 4:23 AM on November 14, 2006

I bought a sewing machine about 10 years ago. It is very basic and very reliable. With it I have made 3 shirts, two vests, shorts, 3 puppets, a couple kites, several costumes, trimmed curtains and who knows what else at this point. Of the features on this machine, all I've needed is straight stitch (of varying length), satin stitch, button holing, and zig zag. It does several more, but I've yet to need them.

When I bought the machine, I had the salesdroid at the shop show me what they had at the lower end and had her show me how to thread each one, wind a bobbin, and otherwise get the machine going from ground zero. This made it perfectly clear what I would standing in my way before starting any project. I used some older Singer machines before and was distinctly underwhelmed by getting them ready to go.

I selected an Elna - they don't have that model for sale anymore, but the 2003 is not far off from the general capabilities. When I bought, I also made sure I got a zipper foot and a button-holing foot, figuring it would be easier to find those at the store that sold the machine then when I needed them for a project. I loaded up on extra bobbin spools and a tackle box to hold thread, needles and other parts.

The embroidery stuff is cute, but I have you to really need it. Anything I need to do embroidered, I can either do by hand or if it is more than a single item, I'd rather pay a shop with a Melco machine to do it.
posted by plinth at 4:51 AM on November 14, 2006

Most home machines are made in the Far East now, particularly assembled in China using some Japanese or Taiwanese precision parts. That said, Elna is still a Swiss firm designing machines for home sewing, whose products for cost reasons are made in the Far East, too. Elna machines are also frequently offered on eBay, although whether you'd actually save much money versus buying from a dealer, I don't know.

I have a mechanical, cam controlled Elna Supermatic from the 1960's that runs like a champ. This was a Swiss manufactured machine, that was painted in a characteristic dark green color, and quite well known for reliability and durability. Occasionally, you still see Supermatics being sold on eBay, and if you like classic mechanical machines, parts and cam sets can still be had.
posted by paulsc at 4:56 AM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

I would suggest both Elna and New Home. Especially older New Home machines. My main machine is the sewing machine my mother bought in college back in 1978 and it still works absolutely wonderfully, due to yearly oilings.

If you're going to be using the machine a lot, I would say up the price. The better machine, the longer the life. Just as paulsc said, an Elna from the 60's will still work better than a Brother from 2006.
posted by banannafish at 5:49 AM on November 14, 2006

I have used a Brother,bought new some six years ago,and have found it exactly fitted my needs which seem to be similar to yours.
posted by Dr.Pill at 5:54 AM on November 14, 2006

Funny, I also have a Brother that's about 6-7 years old and it's holding up fine. (It did go through a period of being funny with the tension, but a very thorough cleaning fixed that.) I dragged it to college and university now and it's survived. All it does is zig-zag and straight, and it has a footpedal, but I've done everything from upholstry fabric to chiffon in it and it handles all of it as well as can be hoped for for a basic machine.
posted by cobaltnine at 6:01 AM on November 14, 2006

Definitely look at the Berninas and Vikings. Go to a local quilt shop and ask the people that work there about their preferences and also ask any customers. Even if the shop is pushing a particular brand - quilters tend to reach a point where they will be brutally honest in their assessment(s) of the equipment. If you don't have a local quilt shop - find a local guild OR just go to a general craft/fabric shop.

I have a Kenmore that's 15 years old and it suits me just fine but I only do very basic sewing. I do quilt but even when I quilt I do minimal freehand quilting - I mostly stick to straightline grids. I use my machine mostly for quilting but I did just make my dog seven winter jackets.

This one is IMPORTANT - see if you have a local sewing machine repair place. Those places tend to sell used machines that are in GREAT condition at a fraction of the cost of a new machine. A good sewing machine will last forever if you take care of it!
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 6:07 AM on November 14, 2006

My partner's always bought Toyota, and has been happy with them (the last one lasted 14 years). She bought an overlocker from this year and got a sewing machine thrown in for free. I don't know how common deals like that are, but it's another data point for you.
posted by Leon at 6:51 AM on November 14, 2006

I suggest you read the discussions about machines here at Pattern Review

Be careful you don't confuse reviews for overlockers with sewing machines! The ratings are not as good between these machines from the same companies.

Sewing machines of the sort you seem to need are functionally not that much different. You don't need bells and whistles. You want reliability.

And, beg pardon, FYI: An overlocker/serger does not replace a sewing machine. They do make some things vastly easier. A low-end serger is extremely useful, but a better one will do cover stitch.
posted by Goofyy at 7:24 AM on November 14, 2006

Go the eBay route if you can. Having compared prices for new machines in the UK at John Lewis and Argos, I noticed that £100 buys you a bottom-of-the-line Brother that would be sixty bucks at any Wal-Mart in the US.

I ended up with a (very cool looking) vintage Pinnock, which has no nylon parts, and threads and winds bobbins the way I remember machines threading and winding. If you learned on an older model, and your skills like mine haven't kept up with the technology, I'd recommend buying vintage.

Note, I did spend more on the shipping than on the item itself, but it was still far below £100.
posted by methylsalicylate at 7:57 AM on November 14, 2006

Also: as a sometimes collector of sewing machines, there are real deals to be had at the right car boot sales. As in, a hand-cranking MoP-inlay Singer for under a tenner.
posted by methylsalicylate at 7:59 AM on November 14, 2006

My sewing machine is basic and inexpensive, but works well and I'm pleased with it. It's a Pfaff Hobby (exact model not shown there). I'm in the US, but it's a German company so you should be able to get one in the UK.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:56 AM on November 14, 2006

A used Bernina on ebay might fit the bill. Look for an all metal mechanical model like the 830E. If it's reconditioned, this is a terrific machine.

The older, all metal Kenmores are also usually a good bet, and easily repaired or reconditioned.
posted by Malla at 11:57 AM on November 14, 2006

I went into JoAnn fabric a while ago looking for a sewing machine. The salesperson there wasn't pushy and seemed pretty knowledgable.

They also had a deal where if you bought a machine and returned it within a year, you got the purchase price taken off a new more expensive machine. She said a lot of folks start small and work their way up.
posted by Chickenjack at 2:02 PM on November 16, 2006

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